Herman Keiser Biography: Golfer Was Dark-Horse Masters Champ

Golfer Herman Keiser
Herman Keiser was a quiet but efficient golfer who, today, is one of the least-remembered major championship winners. But he did, in fact, outduel Ben Hogan to win the 1946 Masters Tournament.

Date and place of birth: October 7, 1914, in Springfield, Missouri

Date and place of death: December 24, 2003, in Akron, Ohio

Nickname: "The Missouri Mortician." The name derived from a serious demeanor on the golf course, and a quiet way off it. A 1946 newspaper article described Keiser as "quiet, retiring, modest, clean-living" and "an extremely deliberate golfer who plays with his eyes shaded by a white sun visor."

Tournament Wins by Herman Keiser

Keiser won five times in PGA Tour events:

  • 1942 Miami Biltmore International Four-Ball (partnered with Chandler Harper)
  • 1946 Masters Tournament
  • 1946 Knoxville Invitational
  • 1946 Richmond Open
  • 1947 Esmeralda Open
Keiser also won several state-level PGA of America tournaments, including the 1939 Iowa Open and the Ohio Open in 1949 and 1951.

Keiser In the Majors

Outside of his Masters win, Keiser posted only one other Top 10 finish in a major: 10th place in the 1948 Masters.

He never played the British Open and entered the U.S. Open only five times. Keiser's last entry in a major other than the Masters was at the 1967 PGA Championship. But he played The Masters every year from 1942-51, again in 1955, and then from 1959-72. He entered twice more after that, the last time in 1982.

His Early Years in Golf

Keiser was born in Missouri and his nickname reflected not just his demeanor, but also his home-state. However, he later became more associated with Ohio.

Keiser served as caddie to PGA pro Al Espinosa when Espinoa played a tournament in Springfield, Missouri, and he also knew fellow Missouri pro Horton Smith.

In 1939, Smith recommended Keiser to Espinosa, who was then the head professional at Portage Country Club in Akron, Ohio. Espinosa hired Keiser as his assistant. A couple years later, Keiser went out and, in a tournament played at Portage, shot a round of 60, breaking Espinosa's course record by two strokes.

With Espinosa's encouragement, Keiser decided to take his first crack at playing the PGA Tour winter circuit. And he was quickly a winner: The first of his eventual five tour wins happened at the 1942 Miami International Four Ball, a team tournament with Chandler Harper as his partner. Keiser finished eighth on the money list his rookie season.

Keiser accepted a job as head professional at Firestone Country Club in Akron, but soon after entered the Navy.

During World War II, Keiser served aboard the light cruiser USS Cincinnati. He went three years without playing golf.

Keiser's 1946 Masters Win

Upon discharge from the Navy, Keiser resumed his position at Firestone CC, then went out on tour again in 1946. At the time of The Masters, Keiser had posted two runner-up finishes — one of them a playoff loss to Ben Hogan — and was ninth on the money list. He was definitely not a nobody to his peers, but he was not well-known to casual golf fans.

It was the 10th Masters played (the tournament had also taken a three-year break due to the war; 1946 was the first year of its resumption), and Keiser built a 5-stroke lead after three rounds.

That lead whittled away over the back nine, until Keiser 3-putted the final green. Chasing him all day was Hogan, playing a couple holes behind Keiser. When Hogan reached the 72nd green, he needed a 1-putt to win or a 2-putt to force a playoff. Instead, Hogan also 3-putted, and Keiser was the champion. Afterward, Keiser always felt that Augusta National members had tried to prevent his victory, and carried a grudge about it for the rest of his life.

Keiser won $2,500 for first place, but won more than $1,000 additionally by betting on himself with local bookies at 20-to-1 odds.

When the tournament was over, Keiser went back to Akron as Firestone CC's pro. (It was very common in those days for tour pros, even the most successful ones, to work at club jobs when they weren't on tour.)

More Notes About Herman Keiser

Keiser won twice more in 1946 and once in 1947, but that was the end of his winning on the PGA Tour.

Keiser played in one Ryder Cup for Team USA, in 1947. The Americans won that Ryder Cup by an 11-1 score. Unfortunately for Keiser, his was the one defeat: He lost in singles to Sam King.

Keiser remained in Akron, Ohio, until the end of his life. He was part owner of Loyal Oak Golf Course in Akron until 1961. For many years after he ran, as the owner-pro, Keiser's Golf Range in Copley, Ohio, outside of Akron. He died at the age of 89 in 2003.

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